Category Archives: Blank on Blank
Blank on Blank
“Blank on Blank” is a multimedia project, headed by David Gerlach, aiming to bring lost interviews to life. Raw audio interviews – with famous names and everyday Americans – gathering dust on hard drives and cassette tapes are transformed with a little music, sharp editing, and smart storytelling into audio pieces, as well as animated shorts.
I’ve worked hard with David to create fun, memorable and decidedly listenable audio productions out of hissing tape from elbow-knocked table-top recordings. I’ve produced quite a few for the project. Here are samples of my favorites.
Bob Dylan was just 20 years old when he appeared on the Folksingers Choice radio program on WBAI FM in New York City. He’d arrived in Manhattan just a few years earlier and was playing in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village – at one in particular he was paid “a dollar plus a cheeseburger.”
We uncovered the hour-long interview at Pacifica Radio Archives. It was conducted by Cynthia Gooding, a folk singer who played in the coffee houses and clubs in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s. She hosted Folksingers Choice. During their conversation, Dylan played some of his own songs (“The Death of Emmett Till”, “Standing on the Highway”) and covers of classics by Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, and Woody Guthrie. I scored this episode, animated by Patrick Smith, with Dylan tuning up his guitar and playing his harmonica.
It’s a wonderful snapshot in time, with a young Dylan before he was famous and before he even released his debut album. He’s nervous and funny. He’s just a guy with a guitar with a little mischief underneath.
Longtime journalist, author and music historian John Pidgeon told us about an interview he recorded with Michael Jackson back in January 1980, in Los Angeles.
In order for Michael Jackson to allow himself to be interviewed, he had one condition: John was not allowed to speak to Michael directly. Instead, he was required to ask his questions to then 13-year old Janet Jackson, who would relay them back to her brother. This, even though the interview took place in one room, all three persons seated next to one another.
I love how animator Patrick Smith interpreted this scenario. Watch the result here.
In the summer of 1966, a star-struck 17-year-old working at his high school radio station in Winnetka, Illinois set out to interview his idol: Muhammad Ali. With a suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape recorder in the back seat, Aisner and a friend drove from the northern suburbs down to the south side of Chicago, where Ali’s fan club was headquartered. It was two years after Ali had trash-talked his way into a victory over Sonny Liston; a year before he would refuse to go Vietnam. At the time, many black Muslims, led by Malcolm X, were advocating for “total separation” of the races. And so, for a scrawny white boy from the suburbs, heading to the heart of Chicago’s African-American South Side was no small thing.
Though Aisner met and interviewed other celebrities and went on as an adult to work in media, he’s never quite forgotten that first interview with his childhood hero. For 25 years, he kept the original reel-to-reel recording until he digitized it. But it sat. No one else ever heard it.
Then Aisner heard about Blank on Blank. And here’s what we did with it.
The Blank on Blank project came across a box in New York City. In it was a cassette tape recorded in 1984, and on that tape was legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and Julian Beck – the actor and theatrical director who founded The Living Theater. Ginsberg brought a tape recorder as a gift to a Manhattan hospital where his friend Beck was undergoing treatment for cancer – again. It’s an intimate document of a decades old friendship that will soon be cut short, and of a man coming to terms with dying.
Here’s how we presented it.